What Arouses Hatred of Fantastic Romantic Fiction?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance receives a lot of hate.
Recently I saw someone comment about romantic fiction; something to the effect of, “When you read romance books, you’re committing adultery.”
I rolled my eyes, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard that argument. Probably won’t be the last. In this Fantastic Romantic Fiction series, I’ve answered to the best of my ability the common critiques romance receives as well as presented a primer.
My hope is I’ve given a fresh perspective about a genre I love.
To end this series, I wanted to share insight from two authors.
‘I didn’t know what I was getting into’
Outside of Travis’s wife, I am Travis’s biggest cheerleader. I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s been a blessing to me as a brother in Christ and as a fellow author. He and I, along with three others, created a romantic fiction series. I’ve asked him to share his thoughts about the experience. 1
1. Why did you want to experiment with writing romantic fiction?
Travis Perry: I have enjoyed stories with strong love interests. I didn’t understand the difference between a romance and a story with a love interest. The other reason is that romance sells better than speculative fiction. I wanted to get in on those romance dollars.
2. What did you learn about writing about romantic fiction that you didn’t know before?
Travis Perry: Flirtation and building expectation are essential commodities of the genre. My initial idea was two characters find something in common and fall in love. Romancing the Stone (1984) is a good example. The movie is an adventure. Romantic fiction is about relationship-building.
3. During our time working on this project, I critiqued your draft and provided some suggestions to add stronger romantic elements. How was that experience for you?
Travis Perry: Details about attraction, flirtation and romance building are elements I’d seldom used. When you went over the draft, you included details about physical attributes, thoughts, and internal narrative. I focused on other parts like dialogue and plot development.
4. We released the series. What were some things you gathered from the experience?
Travis Perry: I’ll share the following:
- I should have used a pen name for writing out of genre. The crowd who followed my work knew me for my military and sci-fi work.
- As a group, we included fantasy, sci-fi and romance and ended up offending all three sects of readers. Also, the covers did not attract the readers we were looking for. We should have created a more romantic storyline and covers that matched it.
- We imagined that putting three genres together, thinking we’d attract all three categorical readers, but that didn’t happen. We should have simplified the stories.
- Romance dollars don’t come as easy as you think. Some speculative fiction writers believe romance is a pile of money you only have to pick up and grab, but that’s not true. Writing romance takes a certain skill set. It’s not easy.
I agree with Travis: we made some choices that didn’t pan out. But neither of us would call it a failure. If anything, we learned what not to do.
‘I use the Bible as a guideline’
My second author is Suprina Frazier.2
What can I say about my beautiful friend? She loves the Lord, and she doesn’t have any issue with adding sex and sensuality in her Christian fiction books. Her primary works are contemporary romance, but I reached out to her for this interview because she has a unique perspective I felt should be shared.
1. As an author who has written sex scenes in her Christian stories, what kind of opposition have you faced?
Suprina Frazier: I faced a lot of opposition from Christians. Realizing they are coming from their own interpretation of what is clean, I don’t vilify them. I’ve learned not to let other people’s interpretation be mine. One well-meaning Christian told me I wrote unclean books. In response, I took her to the book of Acts, to Peter’s vision, and showed her how the Lord admonished Peter for calling what he called clean, unclean. God created sex. It’s people, not God, who make it ugly.
The things you may call unclean are what God wants me to use to reach somebody. God has made me fearless in this path. He told me I am going to write what He tells me to or not at all.
Someone else’s displeasure can’t move me, only His.
2. What are the boundaries you use when crafting sensual scenes?
Suprina Frazier: I talk about whatever God gave me permission to talk about in the Bible. If you go to Song of Solomon, Chapter 4, the groom describes the woman and her body. He pans down from her hair, eyes, teeth, neck, and breasts. My love scenes are steamy, but tasteful. In the Song of Solomon, the groom discusses her face, her lips, her breasts, thighs. This is the permission God has given me.
3. How can you compare the intimacy of husband and wife with the intimacy with God?
Suprina Frazier: With intimacy between a husband and wife and intimacy with God it’s knowing a person like no one else does and should. No one else should know your husband or wife like you do. Likewise with God, there are things we trust God with to be completely naked with Him. When all our sins are laid bare, and He knows all about them. It’s undressing your soul before the Lord. Intimacy with God is greater than intimacy with your spouse.
4. If an author wanted to dip their toes in this volatile area of edgy Christian fiction, how would you advise them?
Suprina Frazier: I would tell the author to do a study in the Word of God. Start in Song of Solomon, but you can look at other instances where God refers to a man and woman becoming one. “He went into her.” “He knew her.” and other phrases. Be prepared to deal with those who will object.
The Creator of romance
My confusion remains why Christian authors and readers have such a hatred of romance. It’s strange. When God describes His relationship with the Church, He calls us his “bride.” As my author friend David Bergsland recently said to me, “When God talks about knowing us, it’s using the same term of an intimate relationship with a husband and wife.”
God is the creator of romance. He’s as crazy about love as we are. This doesn’t mean that he loves so blindly that He lets us do whatever we want. That wouldn’t be genuine love. Love has conditions.
Travis mentioned romance isn’t just two people falling in love. It’s relationship building. When you first fall in love, you can’t get enough of your sweetheart. You long to be in his or her presence all the time.
When we fall in love with our Lord, for new Christians, we bask in His love for us. He came to our rescue, a knight in shining armor, and carried us away from the dragon.
Committing to each other, a couple’s love grows as they experience life. Marriage, children, sickness, career changes, finances, and more. Each segment works to build the couple together. Romance explores this.
Committing to God, our relationship thrives as we experience life. The ebbs and flows of everything above and more. Our love for Him deepens the longer we get to know Him.
In the article “Meet 105-year-old man and 96-year-old wife who have been married for 79 years,” we hear of a couple who have spent nearly eighty years of happily ever after together. Through it all, they had each other.
It makes me look forward to the day when our happily ever after comes, when we reach Heaven and bask in His presence. We’ll be surrounded by His love for all eternity as we partake of the marriage supper and cement our relationship as His bride forever.
Ah! Isn’t that romantic?
- Read all of Travis Perry’s articles for SpecFaith, and check out his publisher, Bear Publications. ↩
- Suprina Frazier has a speculative fiction romance available for free download here! ↩
I’m imagining Travis writing flirty banter and mostly lol-ing at the idea. Let’s hope he figured out how to do “cute dork,” tho that takes just as much finesse (the joke is that he’s already a dork).
Side note, if Audie is lurking around today: Have you been watching Heaven’s Design Team (I think it’s a crunchyroll)? The premise is that when God created the world, he outsourced making most of the animals to a creative team named after the planets. Since it sidesteps evolution, it seems surprisingly compatible with the creationist culture-warrior crowd (presuming that they have enough of a sense of humor about it to accept the outsourcing premise). I like it because it’s like Cells at Work, that it incorporates some nice science info in with its comedy premise. (Tho Venus as an otokonoko maybe be less ignorable than to the culture warriors than I think it is.)
I tried to do the romance thing and Parker says I was ok with it. But I didnt enjoy it and don’t believe I will ever write a romance again.
As for the Heavens Design Team, it sounds like an interesting idea.
No, sorry, I haven’t watched any of that series.
I tried to get in on the popularity of romance too. I didn’t do any better than I did with sci-fi or fantasy.
Parker, to answer your question about why Christians may have such a “hate” of romance, perhaps it lies in the conventions that I have been told are practically Law in the genre. Example: You have to have a meet-cute. When we met Jesus, was it “cute” in any way? Ugh. A romance author who looked over my ms said my protag’s first meet didn’t qualify as a meet-cute. When I argued that Elizabeth Bennet’s first meeting with Mr. Darcy wasn’t “cute” (he basically said she was plain and not worth his time), I was told the meeting just has to be “memorable”. But what constitutes “memorable”? Do real people feel the need to have memorable first meetings, even when it occurs in the most mundane circumstances? “John, this is our new marketing director, Jane.” Polite smile. Handshake. “Pleased to meet you” and back to the group discussion on some other important matter of business. Immediately forgettable. In the real world, that is very often how we meet. Why isn’t that good enough in romance?
Another required trope a romance supposedly has to have is a falling-out or all-is-lost passage that occurs after they’re in love. While certainly dramatic, that doesn’t follow my real life experiences of love, either with a human partner, or with Jesus. In many of the romances I have read, it often seems like a ridiculous misunderstanding that could have been solved by talking to each other. Why is that considered “necessary”? No one could really say I love you and actually mean it and act that way, could they?
And one of the last reasons I think some Christians “hate” the genre is that they want more action and more plot than just the love story. They don’t mind the Han and Leia part of Star Wars at all. Just don’t take out the cool spaceships, lightsaber duels, fantastic landscapes, and quirky cantina scenes. I blame at least some of that on Hollywood spoiling our attention spans. While many romances do have plots that are interesting and would keep reader’s attention, it’s marketed as “LOVE, LOVE, LOVE (oh, and a bit of comicon shenanigans on the side)”, when in reality it’s “Two ComiCon Crazies get in an Epic Cosplay Battle of the Ages, and happen to discover each other in the process.” When you present it like that, it doesn’t sound so “boring”.
But maybe these reasons are more “me” than what is really true for others. I have weird notions and I certainly don’t understand readers very well, or I’d be better at marketing.
Caprice, thank you so much for responding. Everyone has preferences for what they want to read. For me, I can read almost anything…except taxes.
I totally get what Suprina is saying, and think that is a very godly way to approach it I hadn’t considered before.
I’ll also confess, it’s probably more than I would be comfortable reading myself. I’ll have to read one of her books to see how it goes before I can make a final call. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with reading books that got too “steamy” in their descriptions of what is happening between characters.
I do like the occasional clean romance, they’re my comfort reading when I don’t want something too tense because you can usually predict what is going to happen in the books. I’ve found the few indie books I’ve read in that area to be fun to read (I’ll also say the ones written as part of Christian publishing tend to be poorly written and I start mentally rewriting it as I read them).
Rereading my comment, I’m not sure if I’m really clear on what I’m trying to say.
In short, I hadn’t thought of it that way before, and will have to think of it more and I appreciate what you’ve said to get me thinking.
I totally understand where you’re coming from. And sometimes, people read those books because they do like the predictable ending. Sometimes, you want something entertaining and easy to read. A mind cleanser if you will. Totally get it.
When I was young, pre-teens and teens, I remember being with my parents at grocery stores. Often near the check-out lanes, there would be these rotating racks of Harlequin romance books. Most of the covers had these images of beautiful couples, often with the lady dressed in a rather suggestive way, basically almost all over each other, maybe not yet kissing but not far from it.
If romance books have a bad reputation, that’s likely because romance books are their own worst enemies. Do I need to bring up 50 Shades?
And let’s also look at reality–if you go into a book store (assuming such things still exist), what will the Christian Fiction section be filled with? Christian romance books, mostly of the Amish or frontier variety. Buggies and bonnets, all about meeting Mr. and Miss Right. At least the covers are usually not much of a danger to look at. Oh, and Regency romance, too. Those are popular.
What’s fascinating about your comment is that HQ (Harlequin) used to be the forerunner of clean romantic fiction. I’ve bought about 300 books of eBay within the last year and I’ve been making my way through them. From the ’60s, ’70s, the tone was spent on transporting you to exotic places with exciting men and things. Exploring various scenarios through a love story. Toward the ’80’s, it became more steamier as we got inside of the bedroom and so on and so forth
That was my gripe about Christian romance, why is it just Amish or bonnet romances. I write historical romance, yes, but I don’t think Christian romance is Amish. Go figure.
I wish I could tell better by looking at the covers and descriptions what I was in for with Harlequin. Like a MPAA rating on movies. What’s the “steaminess” level? What’s the language level? Call me old and crotchety, but I simply can’t stand when the f-word is used extensively for every imaginable part of speech. Where are the Christian rom-coms? Where are the Christian contemporary romances? Why is everything Amish, Prairie, or Historical? It almost suggests that romance was for days gone by.
Well, that’s the thing: they’re there but in the indie world, not mainstream.